tv Meet the Press MSNBC March 27, 2011 2:00pm-3:00pm EDT
start asking real owners. ask me how to make your first move... find out more about the tempur advanced ergo system! call the number on your screen for your free dvd and information kit. to find an authorized dealer near you, visit tempurpedic.com. tempur-pedic. the most highly recommended bed in america. this sunday, the allied strike against libya stretches into its second week as the u.s. seeks to limit its role. >> responsibility for this operation is being transferred from the united states to our to allies and partners. >> but as criticism from congress mounts, many questions remain. what happens if gadhafi clings to power? what are the limits of the u.s.'s role if a civil war gets worse? and how does a military campaign relate to our overall strategy in the mideast? this morning, a special joint interview. with us, the secretary of state hillary clintonrt
the president faces critics from both sides of the aisle. did he overstep his constitutional authority by using force without consulting congress. my exclusive interview this morning with the ranking member of the community, republican from indiana, senator richard lugar. finally, analysis of the administration's handling of the crisis in libya is our fragile economic recovery continues and our military is stretched thin by two other wars, did the president make the case to the american people that the intervention in libya is worth the cost and the risk and how will it all affect his agenda as well as his upcoming election campaign. with us, associate editor for "the washington post" and author of "obama's wars," bob woodward. contributing analyst for the riggs, and nbc news white house correspondent savannah guthrie.
bbc, ted koppel, tom ricks, and nbc news white house captions paid for by nbc-universal television good morning. good morning. the president will address the nation about u.s. involvement in libya tomorrow night in response to calls for him to clarify the u.s. mission there. meanwhile, day nine of u.s. and allied air strikes libya as rebel forces advance and manage to take control of the strategic city of ajdabyia in eastern libya, a celebration by rebels there yesterday. opposition forces have now made their way from their stronghold city of benghazi to their port town of brega, overtaking gadhafi forces there, both victories a clearer sign the air strikes are helping rebels advance. let's go live to ajdabia where richard angle joins us this morning for the very latest. richard, what does that advance by the rebels, who are behind you in this shot, say ultimately about the u.s. and allied mission in libya?
>> reporter: it means that so far the allied air strikes have allowed the rebels to advance. it they've moved their front lines about 50 miles forward in the last 24 hours or so. and behind me it's clear to see why. western air strikes destroyed by our count at least 20 tanks and other armored vehicles just in this area alone. the rebels came through. i'm on the outskirts of ajdabia now. they have found that gadhafi's forces in the area have been destroyed and now they are pushing even further west. they are likely to get past brega and get to ras lanuf and get to sirte before they find the next part of gadhafi's troops truly dug in and again in need of western help to push this advance, which the rebels hope will take them to tripoli. >> but quickly, richard, what happens if this limited mission actually ends? where does it leave the rebels and their cause and ultimately gadhafi? >> reporter: it is now at a stage where the air strikes are no longer just about defending
the people of benghazi. we're considerably far away from there. the air strikes have destroyed all the forces that were threatening the city. now the air strikes are helping an advance by the rebels. if the air strikes stop, then the rebels will no longer be able to advance and this could become a long, drawn-out stalemate. >> in ajdabiya, richard engel with the very latest. richard, thank you as always. as part of the president's effort to more explain the mission in libya, hillary clinton and secretary of defense robert gates sat down here with me yesterday. secretary clinton, secretary gates, welcome back to "meet the press." >> thank you. >> the president said this was an operation that would take days, not weeks. we're into the second week. has the mission been accomplished? >> i think the no-fly zone aspect has been accomplished. we haven't seen any of his planes fly since it started. we have suppressed his air defenses. i think we've also been
successful on the humanitarian side. we have prevented his forces from going to benghazi, and we have taken out a good bit of his armor. so i think we have to a very large extent completed the military mission in terms of getting it set up. now, the no-fly zone and even the humanitarian side will have to be sustained for some period of time. >> is gadhafi capable of routing the rebels? >> at this point, it appears that his efforts have been stopped. i think if you were to look at where we were just a couple of weeks ago, he was clearly on his way to benghazi. he was intending, by his own words, to show no mercy, to go house to house. i think we prevented a great humanitarian disaster, which is always hard to point to something that didn't happen, but i believe we did. and now we're beginning to see, because of the good work of the coalition, to see his troops
begin to turn back toward the west and to see the opposition begin to reclaim ground he had lost. >> that said, secretary gates, would the u.s. supply arms to the rebels? >> no decision has been made about that at this point. the security council resolution would permit it, the second resolution, 1973, would permit it. but no decisions have been made by our government about that. >> but does this administration want to see the rebels prevail and overtake gadhafi? >> i think the president's policy is that it's time for gadhafi to go. that's not part of our military mission, which has been very limited and very strictly defined. >> how is that going to happen? secretary clinton you said this week you thought you were picking up signals that he wanted to get out of his own accord. >> well, david, there are many different aspects to the strategy that the international community is pursuing. as bob has said, the military mission has gone very well. it only started, you know, just eight days ago, and so it has
been remarkably well coordinated and focused and now nato will take command and control over it. at the same time, we are pursuing really strict economic sanctions on him and people close to him. we have a political effort under way. the african union just called for a transition to democracy. the arab league, the others of us who are supporting this endeavor, are going to be meeting in london on tuesday to begin to focus on how we're going to help facilitate such a transition of him leaving power. >> but you said this week you thought there were indications he was looking to get out. is that true? >> well, people around him. we have a lot of evidence that people around him are reaching out. now, so far what they've been doing is saying, you're misunderstanding us, you don't appreciate what we're doing, come talk to us. well, the secretary-general of the united nations has appointed a special envoy. he will go to benghazi and tripoli in the next few days so we will provide a very clear
message to gadhafi. but we're also sending a message to people around him, do you really want to be a pariah? do you really want to end up in the international criminal court? now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction. >> bottom line, the president wants him to go, but the president will not take him out himself. >> certainly not militarily. >> so it would have to be other means. >> yes. >> and -- >> as i said, you know, we have things in our toolbox in addition to hammers. secretary clinton's just talked about a number of them. and don't underestimate what hillary just said of the people around him looking at what's happening and the international view of this place and when's the time to turn and go to the other side. so i think one should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking. >> i want to talk about some of the congressional criticism. speaker of the house boehner
issued a letter with questions, some of which were deemed legitimate questions by the white house. here's a portion of it. i'll put it up on the screen. because of the conflicting message from the administration and coalition partners, there's a lack of clarity over the objectives of this mission. what our national security interests are, the american people deserve answers to these eson allofh ncnsoi ta nden l.be >> well, i think it's perfectly legitimate for members of congress and the public to ask questions. the president's going to address the nation monday night. a lot of these questions will be answered. but i would just make a couple of points. first, on march 1st, the united states senate passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone. that was a bipartisan resolution. there were a number of people in the house, including leadership in both the republican and democratic parties, who were demanding that action be taken. the international community came together and in an unprecedented
action, the arab league called on the security council to do exactly what the security council ended up doing. the united states and other countries were in a position to be able to act to enforce it. if you look at the coverage on al jazeera, if you listen to the statements put out on the opposition in libya, there's great deal of appreciation for what we and others have done in order to stop gadhafi on his mission of merciless oppression. so this was an international effort that the united states was a part of. i certainly believe it was within the president's constitutional authority to do so. it is going according to the plan that the presidt laid out. the united states will be transitioning to a nato command and control, and then we will be joining with the rest of the international community. and if you look at the region, can you imagine, david, if we were sitting here and gadhafi
had gotten to benghazi and in a city of 700,000 people had massacred tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands had fled over the border, destabilizing egypt, everybody would be saying, why didn't the president do something? >> can i ask you about -- >> these are difficult choices. >> did speaker boehner raise any objections when he was briefed prior to the mission? >> well, i know that there was a constant flow of information, both to members and staff. and, of course, the president had a conference with some members in person, others, many others, including the speaker on the phone. but we have no objection to anybody asking questions. but i think it's important to look at the context in which this is occurring. and the fact that we have moved so rapidly to have this kind of international action taken, answers in great measure that legitimate concerns of the people of libya, and now, of course, we're going to take it day by day. that's what you do in a situation like this.
>> the military's stretched pretty thin. look at this map to show what our commitments are around the globe. in iraq, of course, we have 47,000 troops, in afghanistan, 100,000 strong, and now this additional commitment of u.s. troops -- not troops but u.s. assets in libya. how does the president, speaking to the nation monday night, maintain a sense of national purpose here at a time when we're so stretched? >> actually your list was incomplete. we have a substantial military commitment in humanitarian assistance disaster relief in japan as well, largely using naval forces. the air forces that we are using for the most part and the air forces in particular that we're using in libya are forces normally stationed in europe in any event. the reality is, though, beginning this week or within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the commitment
of resources that we have committed to this. we knew the president's plan at the beginning was we would go in heavy at first because we had the capacity to do it in terms of suppressing the air defenses and so on. but then the idea was that, over time, the coalition would assume a larger and larger proportion of the burden. this was the conversation he had with foreign leaders when this whole thing was coming together, and so we see our commitment of resources actually beginning to -- >> how long does the no-fly zone last? weeks or longer? >> first of all, nobody knows the answer to that question, but once the air defenses have been suppressed, what it takes to sustain the no-fly zone is substantially less than what it takes to establish. >> let me ask this question, still on the mill tairk and then you can comment as well. what in things don't go as well? ha is our contingency plan, what is the u.s. commitment if things get worse in libya? if gadhafi stays, if there's an entrenched civil war? if it's involves into a chaos?
what's the plan then? >> the president made clear there will be no american troops on the ground in libya. he's made that quite definite. our air power has significantly degraded his armor capabilities, his ability to use his armor against cities like benghazi. we see them beginning to move back to the west, retreating. so, you know, this eventually is going to have to be settled by the libyans themselves. perhaps the u.n. can mediate or whatever. in terms of the military commitment, the president has put very strict limitations in terms of what we're prepared to do. >> i want to ask you about the receipt of the region, secretary clinton. because there's so much in happening. first, as we look at the broader middle east, we look at syria. deadly protests because of a government crackdown that have been occurring over the past few days. is it the position of the government that we would like to see the assad regime fall? >> what we have said is what we've said throughout this extraordinary period of transformation in north africa
and the middle east. we want to see no violence. we want to see peaceful protests that enable people to express their universal human rights. we want to see economic and political reform. that's what we called on in syria. and that's what we've called on other governments across the region to do. >> what about saudi arabia? we go back to secretary gates. back to the map, the king is quite upset with the president. the relationship has ruptured to the point that he has sent troops into bahrain. he would not see both of you when you were in the region. what are we doing to fix a ruptured relationship with perhaps our most important partner in the region when it comes to oil as well as other important matters? >> first of all, i don't believe the relationship is ruptured. we have a very strong relationship with saudi arabia. i think that the saudis see all of this turbulence in this region with some disquiet. they're very concerned about iran. they believe that iran will be able to take advantage of the
situation in various of these countries, and those are their concerns. and we share some of those concerns, but i think it's a great exaggeration to say this relationship's ruptured. i intend to visit the region in the near term and hope and intend to see the king. so i think -- we have a very strong relationship. we have a very strong military-to-military relationship. as you know, the saudis just made one of the largest purchases of american weapons in their history. so i think it's overdrawn. do we have some differences of view? absolutely. but that's -- that happens between friends all the time. >> back to the map, in addition to yemen i want to actually focus on egypt. still the strategic cornerstone, yemen, of course, important. oopz but it is in egypt that is the strategic cornerstone of this region. what are we doing, secretary clinton, at this point to try to assist the young, secular movement that wants to find a
way toward leadership that may be out manned now by the muslim brotherhood and mubarak's only party. >> well, david, first, we have historically done quite a bit in reaching out to the very young people you're referring to. when i was just in egypt, i met with a number of those who had been leaders of the activities in tahrir square and that were hoping to translate that protest into political action. a lot of them had been in american government-sponsored programs. they'd been on visitation programs to the united states. and we are continuing to reach out and work with them and to try to provide support to them. it is hard moving from being in the forefront of a movement to being part of a political process. it's hard in any country. but we're going to stand with them and make sure that at least in so far as we're able torque they get the support they need. at the same time, though, we're also working with the interim government in egypt, both bob and i when we were recently in
egypt, met with government officials and met with the military officials who are for the time being running the government. we want to assist them on the economic reform efforts that they're undertaking. now, ultimately this is up to the egyptians. they're going to have to make these decisions, but we've offered our advice, and we're offering aid where appropriate. >> secretary gates, is libya in our vital interest as a country? >> no, i don't think it's vital interest for the united states. but we clearly have interest there, and it's a part of the region which is of vital interest for the united states. >> i think a lot of people would hear that and say, well, that's quite striking, not in our vital interest, and yet we're committing resources. >> but it wouldn't be fair as to what bob just said. did libya attack us? no, they did not attack us. do they have a very critical role in this region? and do they neighbor two countries? you just mentioned, one, egypt.
the other, tunisia. they're going through these extraordinary transformations and cannot afford to be destabilized by conflict on their borders? yes. do they have a major influence on europe because of everything from oil to immigration? david, that raises a very important point because you showed on the map just a minute ago afghanistan. you know, we asked our allies, our nato allies, to go into afghanistan with us ten years ago. they have been there, and a lot of them have been there, despite the fact they were not attacked. the attack came on us, as we all tragically remember. they stuck with us. when it comes to libya, we started hearing from the uk, france, italy, other of our nato allies. le this was in their vital national interest. the uk and france were the ones who went to the security council and said, we have to act because otherwise we're seeing a really violent upheaval with a man who has a history of unpredictable
violent acts right on our doorstep. so, you know, let's be fair here. they didn't attack us, but what they were doing and gadhafi's history and the potential for the disruption and instability was very much in our interest as bob said, and seen by our european friends and our arab partners as very vital to their interests. >> before you go, secretary clinton, i want to change the topic. a dear friend and supporter of yours, geraldine ferraro has passed away. she was on this show, the first woman to be on the ticket with walter mondale. the first woman, of course. and she was asked a question by marvin at the time. i want to show you that exchange and get you to react to o it. >> ms. ferraro, could you push the nuclear button? >> i can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country. >> including that. >> yeah. even.
>> do you think you would have been politically elected? >> that's a double-edged sword so that -- i don't know. i don't know if i were not a woman, if i would be judged in the same way in my candidacy, whether or not i'd be asked questions like, are you strong enough to push the button, that type -- >> how times have changed. she changed them, and you, of course, changed them, too, for women in politics. what's your reaction to seeing that and your reaction to her death? >> it just makes me smile because she was an extraordinary pioneer. she was a path breaker. she was everything that now commentators will say an icon, a legend. but she was down to earth. she was just as personal a friend as you could have. she was one of my fiercest defenders and most staunch supporters. she had a great family that she cherished and stood up for in every way. and she went before many women to a political height that is
very difficult still and she navigated it with great grace and grit. and i think we owe her a lot. and i'll certainly think about her every day, and thanks for asking me to reflect on it briefly because she was a wonderful person. >> thank you both very much. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> appreciate it. we are joined now by the ranking member of the senate foreign releases committee, republican senator richard lugar of indiana. welcome to "meet the press," senator. >> thank you. >> you've heard from secretary gates and clinton. i wonder, are you satisfied with the progress in libya and with their explanation of our mission? >> well, i was startled to hear secretary gates say that libya was not of vital interest, secretary clinton then came in with the fact that our european allies are very disturbed about the situation. and, of course, we have justified military action as a humanitarian action to stop the shooting of civilians.
i would just start by say ing before our nation goes to war or has military action, there must be a plan, there must be objectives, the endgame, what we want to achieve. and then at least some means as to how that's going to occur. that has not happened as yet, and the president has said we've had success because gadhafi would have murdered many people in benghazi. but the fact is that there was fighting in benghazi because the so-called rebels, the other people that are not gadhafi supporters, started a civil war in libya, following civil wars in tunisia and egypt. and the facts are that that civil war was proceeding and in many cases the rebels seemed to be winning except when they got to benghazi or in tripoli. so at this point we then adopt a no-fly zone with the thought of knocking out gadhafi's aircraft, then the ground zone situation,
which we knocked out the tanks and the trucks and the other situation. now, having done all that, the fact is that the rebels, as you pointed out,age da baya have come back. so on the eastern side of libya, the cities all seem to be lined up with the rebels. on the western side in misrata, the gadhafi people are trying to take that so they at least hav much less of a role there, leaving that to the europeans. and it simply leaves the whole situation up for grabs in which there's hopefulness, maybe, that gadhafi will leave or something bad will happen to him or, in fact, that somehow these persons who are the rebels who we really don't know who have no particular government are going to form something that is more friendly to us or to the europeans. >> well, let me ask you to
unpack that a little bit. if it's not in our vital interest, bottom line, should we not be involved? >> i think there should have been a plan for what our objectives were, debate as to why this was in our vital interest before we committed military forces to libya. >> it's interesting that the press secretary for the president jay carney said this was not, in fact, a war. it was a time-limited, scope-limited military action. do you think that's a bit of dancing there? and is the president, when he speaks to the nation, having to be more forthright about what we're engaged in? >> well, when i had the opportunity to ask the president if during this telephonic conference that secretary clinton has mentioned, he justified action as a humanitarian gesture, that would have been unconscionable to stand by while gadhafi murdered people in benghazi. as a result, these people were
saved, and now we move backward in terms of our obligations in the situation. an event no boots on the ground, the president reiterated that. so this means in essence the libyans are still going to have to solve their civil war. we've pretty well knocked out gadhafi's air force and many of his tanks, but the fact is the country is still very divided into the east and west cities. >> what is our commitment to that civil war? >> well, i don't believe we should be engaged in libyan civil war. i think the libyans are going to have to work that out. the fact is that we don't have particular ties with anybody in the libyan picture, and we will have to at least adjust to whatever that outcome may be. but as far as we're concerned, as secretary gates said, it is not of vital interest to the united states, american interests are not at stake, and we clearly have already done much more than our part with regard to the no-fly zone, with regard to european friends.
>> will it require more funds from the government for this military operation? >> of course. and that's what i stated from the beginning. there has to be objectives and a plan and an agreement that we're prepared to devote military forces but also the money. it makes no sense in the front room where in congress we are debating seemingly every day the deficits, the debt ceiling situation coming up, the huge economic problems we have, but in the back room we are spending money on a military situation in libya, estimates are that about $1 billion has already been spent on an undeclared war in libya. some would say only hundreds of millions, and that that will diminish in the days ahead. but what knows how long this goes on? and furthermore, who has really budgeted for libya at all? i have not really heard the administration come forward saying that we're going to have to devote these funds, folks,
and, therefore, it's something else that will have to go or it simply adds to the deficit. >> let me ask you, finally, can the u.s. and its allies accomplish the mission that they've set out to achieve if moammar gadhafi remains in power? >> probably not. in large part, since we have taken the position that moammar gadhafi is an especially evil, bad dictator and we have now indicated, the president said, that he must go, he lacks legitimacy and so forth, others have made the same statement, but if, in fact, he stays, is successful with his forces in subduing the rebels, then we are going to have to deal with gadhafi and whatever we have there. i think there is sort of a vague hope still intimated by secretary clinton that perhaps he may be thinking about where he might go or with his money and his family and so forth who might accept him in the world and sort of slip out of the picture. but even if he did, the forces that are allied with him may
very well still prevail in the civil war. >> all right. we will leave it there, senator lugar. thank you very much. coming up, the obama doctrine. is the president's handling of the conflict in libya a sign of a new era in american foreign policy? how will it affect his efforts to confront the deficit and create jobs back at home as well as his reflection? our roundtable weighs in. bob woodward, ted koppel and tom ricks from the center for a new american security and nbc's white house savannah guthrie. breathe in, breathe out. as volatile as markets have been lately, having the security of a strong financial partner certainly lets you breathe easier. for more than 140 years, pacific life has helped millions of americans build a secure financial future wouldn't it be nice to take a deep breath and relax?
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we are back joined by our roundtable, nbc news white house correspondent savannah guthrie, senior fellow at contributing editor to foreign policy magazine tom ricks, author of "obama's wars," bob woodward and contributing analyst to the bbc, a man who doesn't need much introduction, ted koppel. welcome to all of you. and, ted, welcome. pleasure to have you here. i want to start with you. we've just heard this discussion, particularly the secretary of defense, saying that this campaign in libya is not in america's vital interest, questions laid out by senator lugar and criticism. pretty high stakes for the president who's about to address the nation about it all. >> yes, and i don't think he's going to be able to answer the
central question. you asked the right question in talking about the national interest. the question hasn't yet been answered as to why it is that libya, of all countries in the region, has won the humanitarian defense sweepstakes of 2011. we have seen many countries, both in the region and throughout the world, where civilian loss and civilian suffering has been much, much greater, congo, for the past 12 years, we've lost 5 million people, sudan, 2 million people to 3 million people. never any talk of military intervention. take a look at what's going on in the ivory coast today. secretary clinton was talking about the number of refugee that's might have come out of a gadhafi attack on benghazi. we've got 700,000 refugees in the ivory coast right now, close to 1 million, in fact. why? why libya? hasn't been answered. >> do you think, savannah, that
the president will make the case that in many ways this was a message being sent to the rest of the arab world, particularly the persian gulf, where they'd like to see more reforms particularly after the saudis put more troops in bahrain that they felt they had to take a stand here? >> i think they felt they had to make a stand because you have to put this in the context of the arab spring. when you look at libya, you have to be looking at what happens -- what's going on with its neighbors. in fact, this week in south america, i asked the president point-blank, what is the national security interest of the u.s. in libya? and he cited egypt, tunisia, unrest in the region. so the president's going to have to put it in that context. what's so fascinating about his rhetoric, though, is while he's saying we need to do this, the u.s. will take this military action, you can see the sub text clearly his own reluctance do so. it's not the normal commander in chief fare, our cause is just, our cause is righteous, we'll see it through to the end. instead you hear him saying, we'll be in and out. it's going to be of limited duration.
we won't be the ones enforcing the no-fly zone. it won't be our ships enforcing the arms embargo. you see that reluctance shot through his rhetoric. >> tom ricks, we began the discussion this morning, richard engel reporting on the rebel, they're getting closer to tripoli. then what? that's the moment we leave? are we going to supply the rebels? i mean if gadhafi stays, can we really say mission accomplished? >> i think they'll say we can. all obama is saying is give war a chance. not all war. all we did was kick the door down, let the brits and french and others do it. and i think his notion is we're going to be out of there long before this is resolved. that's the hope. that's the best case scenario. >> and we don't have to stick around. there is this reticence, bob woodward, this caught my eye in the financial times. this is a president who could still run in 2012 on the grounds that he got us out of two world wars. he's not going to do things to distract us from afghanistan and
that's totally consistent with what i call the obama doctrine, that other countries are going to have to do more in a more diverse international order. >> but this is war. i mean you can't extinguish our knowledge about war. this idea that you can have a limited video game, it just isn't the way it is. no one knows more about this than tom ricks. and the question is, what's going on here, and the larger picture is what savannah is calling the arab spring. i'm not sure whether it's unrest, an up heevl, whether these are revolutions. but in a 5,000-mile area, mon toews ya to afghanistan, you have to kind of put all of this together, the president has a mammoth management problem.
there is deep unhappiness, as there should be, about, do we know what's going on in these countries? in the intelligence agencies are scrambling because they covered the leaders and not the people who with were the revolutionaries or the rebels or the people involved in this upheaval. >> ted koppel, part of the issue here, as secretary gates has said in a different context, we're in a dark territory here. we don't know how things are going to turn out in libya, in egypt, in yemen, in syria. throughout the middle east. >> look. you make a couple of good points. first of all, syria. remember that the current president's father back in 1982 when he had a little rebellion on his hands in the city of ha ma -- >> wiped them out. >> -- wiped them out. 80 people. 80,000 people were killed in ha ma. what do we know about the rebels in libya? one of the few things we know is that we know from that legion of libya a disproportionately high number of young men who joined al qaeda in iraq. are these the folks we want to associate ourselves with? we know for a fact that gadhafi
is a bad guy, but we know very little about the people who seek to replace them. >> tom, do you know? is that a central question here? >> i think it is a concern, are we turning libya over to islamic extremists? but i don't think all islamic extremists are necessarily our enemy. what we're at war with is violent islamic extremists who want to attack the united states. i think what you're seeing now is something very different, which is some of those islamist extremists are cheering the united states. an f-15 went down over eastern libya, and one of the two-member crew was embraced by the crowd. way wanted to shake his hand. they lined up to shake his hand. it astonished me to thing that we are bombing an arab state, and the people on the ground are cheering for that. >> there's -- one of the challenges it seems to me, savannah, for the president is to articulate that we may have a new approach to foreign policy in the post-bush era, but we're
still the indispensable nation when it comes to many things in that part of the world. >> there's a paradox because it seems like the administration wanted it both ways, saying early on, we don't want to make this a u.s.-versus-libya dynamic, feed into that. the u.s. was among the last to call for gadhafi's ouster. openly wringing its hands over the prospect of a no-fly zone for three weeks. then suddenly a couple of weeks ago, about a tuesday, we had a total turnaround, a change of heart once the arab league said, we want a no-fly zone. i think there are mixed messages coming out of the administration. it may simply be part of the revolution inside the administration. it seems the president has sided with what some call the idealist wing as opposed to the old hands like a roberts gates, joe biden, even the national security adviser. and the president is obviously not happy with his set of choices. one person told me in a meeting he called this military action
in libya a turd sandwich, but he was quoting an aide who likes that term. >> ted koppel, you spent time with henry kissinger in the earlier days who knew something about the big ideas for the world. is this administration getting the big ideas right in the tumult in the middle east? . don't think anyone has the big ideas right yet. first of all, let's take a look at what happened not so many years ago, and tom would know more about this than most of us, bob, too, afghanistan. we supported the mujahideen in afghanistan when they were there to drive the soviet union out. we supported them and found to our chagrin that after we supplied them with weapons, eventually those weapons were turned against us. one of the men fighting for that group was osama bin laden. we have no idea what these we had no idea what the libyan rebels are going to endup dog,ho ty' gng nd gogobeo laste
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roundtable. bob woodward, the big ideas. >> first of all, it's political survival for obama. >> that's the big idea. >> yes. that is the big idea, and libya is a hard case. it's one of these 51/49 cases. he's sitting here thinking, what do i have to worry about? and he's thinking about next year when he's running for re-election. he can't get that out of his mind, of course, and i don't think this is the reason he did it, but it's in his mind. and he needs to be two things to run against a republican. he needs to make sure the
country's safe, as safe as it's been, no more attacks. he needs to be tough. and so he has essentially adopted the tough line for a moment. but to use -- launder savannah's term, this is not just a "t" sandwich. there are sandwiches like this all over, and they realize that. i mean let's go right to it. this is obama's 9/11. not libya, but the whole thing. the uprising, the upheaval, the revolution. if he manages it well, keeps the country safe, and is tough and determined and focused, this is a big win for him next year. >> ted koppel, what about the republican opposition? is it principled here or much more feckless and inconsistent? because many of them wanted a no-fly zone, then said it was too little too late. then as newt gingrich said, you
shouldn't have intervened ought all. they either sound inconsistent or a lot more like president bush who became quite unpopular within republican circles and the country at large on the war. >> i don't think you're hearing much detail from the putative republican candidates for president for good reason. they don't know any more than the rest of us how this thing will turn out, and at the moment, they have the luxury of sitting back and letting things develop before they come out and take a hard position. >> it's interesting, savannah, a state of the union was not that long ago. susan paige in the "usa today" makes an important point. in a sign of how quickly things have changed, consider this. obama's state of the union speech didn't mention egypt. then ruled by mubarak, a u.s. ally for decades who has since been ousted or refer to the safety concerns over nuclear power that are sparking headlines around the world. there was nothing about libya or collective bargaining rights. what he wanted to do is talk about jobs and cutting the deficit and not the fact that the middle east is completely out of control. >> right.
and you see administration aides trying to stick to that schedule. i mean even if thakt that he continued with the latin american trip last week, they're just defying world events to take them off the agenda they want to set. and they're still doing some of their education initiatives, economic initiatives. so they're trying to stick to it. but they can't, of course, dictate world events and the fact of the matter is the president is spending most of his time these days on these national security issues. >> tom, you're a little bit more sanguine about this analytically. you said off camera there is a natural flow to libya from the president's cairo speech where he tried to refashion america's image in the rest of the world. >> yeah. last week the white house was talking about the slaughter in former yugoslavia. this -- if they had stood back, as hillary clinton said to you, if they had just let that happen, this would have been enormous.
this would be an enormous blot on the presidency, worse because the president would be seen as partly encouraging it. u.s. military is very unhappy with this. a lot of people in the military read my blog and almost every single comment posted on the blog from military people have been questioning of this. they hate it, are scared by it, especially when they hear terms like "limited war." that evokes lyndon johnson going into vietnam. on the other hand, i would say this is very much in the american military tradition, what the american military has done through most of its history, this sort of action. this is really just obama going back to an eisenhower-like approach of not trying to get stuck in something but try to affect it. >> but, bob, i mean you've chronicled this throughout the bush years and now the obama years. the point that you had made before, which is what if things don't go as planned? isn't the legacy of iraq to question the government's best case scenarios? >> and i've heard obama say things like, war is hell, it is managing chaos. he clearly does not like war,
and in his nobel acceptance speech he said war is never glorious. it's a manifestation of human folly. and here he is going to war. i think he felt the pressure. and the question is, is he going to be able to extract the u.s. in a way that's honorable and limited. and as you know, tom, the military people say, you're going to get a general in there, whether it's any toe general or a u.s. general. it's going to be like general mcchrystal in afghanistan and say, well, i can solve this problem. how about 20,000 troops or 30,000 troops? it's hard to find the "off" switch in war. >> let me get another break in here. we'll come back with a few more minutes with our roundtable right after this.
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which is a true american value for people with diabetes like me. [ male announcer ] accu-chek aviva. born in the usa. we're back. just a few minutes with our panel. ted, you wanted to pick up. >> i did. i just wanted to invoke the law of unintended consequences in reference to what bob said. remember somalia. there was never a more humanitarian mission than when president george w.h. bush -- h.w. bush, the elder bush, when he ordered u.s. troops into somalia to avoid the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people. ultimately that led to a dead ranger being dragged through the streets of mogadishu. we pulled out of somalia, just in panic, and a few weeks later when rwanda happened, the united states was so shellshocked that it was unable do anything, and
800,000 people died. >> is the question politically on what's happened on the left, i spoke to dennis kucinich as part of our midweek "meet the press" press pass conversation, and he raised the specter of a challenge, a primary challenge for the president. take a look. >> should there be an anti-war candidate who challenges president obama in 2012? >> i believe it would be healthy if there was a pro-peace candidate, but not just about peace as some airy-fairy notion but an active presence of an understanding of the science of human relations and jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, retirement security. peace is an economic issue as we're finding out, $3 trillion for the war in iraq, $500 trillion for the war in afghanistan, 1$100 million a da spent in the intervention of libya.
>> as bob reported -- >> you can see it. the irony, of course, that obama in 2008 was the anti-war candidate, and for him to be the person who has brought us into a third conflict in the middle east, i think that is why you see that anguish. he does not want to be in these circumstances, but he feels that his hand has been forced. i think it is going to be a concern on the left. but what's interesting about what you see in congress is the objections seem to be mostly about process, hey, we weren't consulted, less about substance. that seems to be kind of the bipartisan grumbling over issues of the co-equal branches, the separation of power. >> tom, a little less than a minute here. >> i was really struck by what you had with the secretary of defense and secretary of state and their comments again and again saying limited war, limited interest. there is a leash on here on the u.s. military that if any general get as whiff of mission creep, they're going to yank on that leash so hard his head is going to come snapping all the
way back to washington. >> yes. we shouldn't end without mentioning, you have all of these powder kegs in this area, saudi arabia, this is the country that matters, this is, as you pointed out in talking to gates and clinton, there is a ruptured relationship where it's not a good one. this is a monarchy, and they are our oil pipeline. how do we manage that? that's at the top of the list of obama's problems. >> in a fragile economic recovery. thank you all very much. we will leave it there. before we go, a quick programming note. full coverage on nbc news and msnbc of the president's speech tomorrow night. plus, be sure to watch "nbc nightly news" tuesday night as the president sits down for an interview with brian williams. check out our website weekly for the midweek press pass. this week i'll sit down with the new chairman of the republican national committee reince priebus. it will be on our website this wednesday afternoon. that is all for today. we'll be back next week. if it's sunday, it's "meet the press."